WASHINGTON — White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients says it’s essential that Congress pass President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill to keep the momentum on vaccinations and more testing capacity to contain the virus.
Zients says the administration is committed to delivering on Biden’s goal of 100 million shots in 100 days, and more if doable. But his top aide, Andy Slavitt, also says 500 million shots would be needed to vaccinate all Americans 16 and older.
Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” has a total price tag of $1.9 trillion, which is making some Republicans in Congress balk. But most of the cost is to shore up the economy.
About $400 billion is for measures specifically aimed at controlling the virus, including dramatically increasing the pace of vaccinations and building out an infrastructure for widespread testing.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Dr. Fauci says vaccines can adjust to coronavirus variants. CDC leader says US may reach 514,000 deaths by Feb. 20. The 27-nation EU is coming under criticism for the slow rollout of its vaccination campaign. AstraZeneca and EU to meet in Brussels to talk over vaccine production delays. U.S. boosting vaccine deliveries amid complaints of shortages. IOC, Tokyo Olympics to unveil rule book for beating pandemic.
— Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says there’s reason to be concerned about the impact of some coronavirus mutations on vaccines, but scientists have plenty of options for adjustments to maintain the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments.
The government’s top infectious disease expert says there’s particular concern about the so-called South African variant, because lab tests have shown that it can diminish the protective power of the vaccines approved to date.
However, Fauci stressed the level of protection provided was still well within what he called the “cushion” of vaccine effectiveness.
Fauci says one vaccine that’s still in testing is being measured for effectiveness against the South African variant and another strain that has emerged in Brazil. He called that a promising development.
WASHINGTON — White House Coronavirus Coordinator Jeff Zients is saying in the Biden administration’s first formal briefing on the pandemic that officials will always hew to the science and level with the public.
Rochelle Walensky, the new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says her agency’s latest forecast indicates the U.S. will record between 479,000 to 514,000 deaths by Feb. 20.
Zients says the federal Department of Health and Human Services is acting Wednesday to make more professionals available to administer vaccinations. The government will authorize nurses and doctors who have retired to administer vaccines, and professionals licensed in one state will be able to administer shots in other states. Such measures are fairly standard in health emergencies.
The U.S. leads the world with 25.4 million confirmed cases and more than 425,000 deaths.
APELDOORN, Netherlands — The 27-nation EU is coming under criticism for the slow rollout of its vaccination campaign.
The bloc, a collection of many of the richest countries in the world, is not faring well in comparison to countries like Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States. While Israel has given at least one shot of a two-dose vaccine to over 40% of its population and that figure in Britain is 10%, the EU total stands at just over 2%.
Onerous regulations and paperwork in some countries and poor planning in others have contributed to the delay, as did a more deliberate authorization process for the shots. Some drugmakers say they won’t be able to meet their initial vaccine doses because of problems in expanding production capacity.
MADRID — Health authorities in Spain say they are running short of COVID-19 vaccines due to delays in deliveries by pharmaceutical companies.
Northeast Catalonia, home to Barcelona, says 10,000 people who had received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine won’t be able to get their required second dose administered as planned 21 days later.
Regional authorities for the territory surrounding the capital of Madrid also say they were halting the administration of the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine to ensure that those awaiting a second shot could get it as scheduled.
Spain has administered 95% of the 1.3 million vaccines it has received as part of the EU plan, according to its health ministry. Only 123,000 people have received the full vaccine. Spain along with the rest of the European Union has suffered delays since Pfizer announced two weeks ago a temporary reduction in deliveries so it could upscale its plant in Puurs, Belgium.
ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced the state will get more coronavirus vaccines each week from the federal government.
Georgia’s weekly allotment will rise by nearly 26,000 doses to 145,900 doses, Kemp said. That’s a 16 percent increase from the current 120,000 doses.
The announcement didn’t say when the change would take effect. It came hours after state officials said they may not see a boost in their weekly vaccine allocation until April.
“Although we still expect demand to far exceed supply for the foreseeable future, this is no doubt welcome news, and we will work around the clock to get these vaccines distributed and safely administered as quickly as possible,” Kemp said in a statement.
WINFIELD, Kan. — Public health officials are trying to determine whether a coronavirus variant is fueling a new outbreak at a Kansas prison.
Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, says there had been no cases for weeks at Winfield Correctional Facility before a “whole cluster of cases broke out,” The Wichita Eagle reports.
The Kansas Department of Corrections reported that Winfield’s prison currently had 69 inmates cases and eight staff cases on Monday. Statewide, there have been 5,628 inmates and 1,174 staff members infected since the start of the pandemic.
Norman says the outbreak shows why it is important to vaccinate inmates early. They are part of the second phase, along with those over 65 and essential workers.
HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe buried three top officials who died of the coronavirus in a single ceremony.
Pallbearers in full protective gear wheeled the coffins of the two Cabinet ministers and a former head of Zimbabwe’s prisons on a red carpet for burial with military honors.
Sibusiso Moyo, the country’s foreign affairs minister, was best known as the military general who announced the coup against then-president Robert Mugabe on television in 2017. The coup ended Mugabe’s 37-year rule.
Zimbabwe has lost four cabinet ministers to the coronavirus. Zimbabwe has not yet received any vaccines. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said government health officials are still deciding which vaccine to acquire.
The country of 15 million has recorded 32,004 confirmed cases and 1,103 deaths.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s dispute with AstraZeneca has intensified with the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker denying the EU’s assertion that it had pulled out of talks on vaccine supplies.
AstraZeneca says it still plans to meet with EU officials in Brussels later in the day. The talks will be the third in as many days. AstraZeneca rejected the EU’s accusation that the company had failed to honor its commitments to deliver coronavirus vaccines.
The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said last week it planned to cut initial deliveries in the EU to 31 million doses from 80 million. AstraZeneca says the amounts in its contract with the EU were targets that couldn’t be met because of problems in expanding production capacity.
The EU, which has 450 million citizens, is lagging behind in its roll out of coronavirus vaccine shots for its health care workers and most vulnerable people.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh started vaccinations against coronavirus in the nation’s capital, with the hope of administering more than 30 million doses over next few months.
Runu Beronica Costa, a senior nurse of the Kurmitola General Hospital, got the first shot of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. She was followed by a doctor, a military official, a traffic policeman and a senior official of the government’s health department.
Their vaccination was broadcast live as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina witnessed the process remotely and thanked them. Hasina urged all to come forward to eventually get their shots.
The campaign started as Bangladesh has received 7 million doses since Thursday from India. Two million doses were gifts from the Indian government while the rest was purchased from the Serum Institute of India.
Bangladesh has recorded 532,916 confirmed cases and 8,055 deaths.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Bahrain says it’s discovered a mutated strain of the coronavirus on the island kingdom and will send students to learn from home for the next three weeks.
The island in the Persian Gulf off Saudi Arabia also says it would stop dining-in service at restaurants and cafes for the next three weeks as well.
The restrictions will begin from Sunday. The kingdom didn’t identify what strain of the virus it had discovered there in an announcement carried by the state-run Bahrain News Agency.
Bahrain has been trying to vaccinate its public amid the pandemic. It has registered some 100,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 370 deaths.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus’ health minister says a steady decrease in coronavirus infections three weeks into a nationwide lockdown is allowing for the start of the gradual, targeted lifting of closures and restrictions.
Constantinos Ioannou says the first to re-open on Feb. 1 will be hair and beauty salons, followed a week later by retail stores, shopping malls and elementary schools. Students in their final year of high school will go back to classes on Feb. 8.
He says it’s projected that 100,000 people will be vaccinated by the end of March including those over 80 and front-line health care workers.
MOSCOW — Moscow’s mayor lifted some coronavirus restrictions in the Russian capital, citing a downward trend in new infections.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin says employers are no longer required to have 30% of staff work from home, although a recommendation to continue doing that remains. Sobyanin has also allowed cafes, restaurants and bars to operate between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
“Over the past week, the number of new infections didn’t exceed 2,000-3,000 a day … More than 50% of beds in coronavirus hospitals are free for the first time since mid-June,” Sobyanin said. “The pandemic is on the decline … and it’s our duty to create conditions for the economy to recover as fast as possible.”
The number of new coronavirus infections reported by Russian authorities has been on the decline this month, dropping from up to 25,000 a day in early January to under 20,000 this week. In Moscow, the number of daily new infections dropped to under 2,000 on Wednesday, from roughly 5,000 two weeks ago.
Russia has reported a total of 3.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 70,000 deaths in the pandemic. In December, Russian authorities launched a vaccination campaign with the domestically developed Sputnik V, which is still undergoing advanced trials to ensure its safety and effectiveness.
PARIS — French drug maker Sanofi says it will help manufacture 125 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by rivals Pfizer and BioNTech, while its own vaccine candidate faces delays.
Germany-based BioNTech will initially produce the vaccines at Sanofi facilities in Frankfurt, starting in the summer, according to a Sanofi statement Wednesday. The company did not reveal financial details of the agreement.
The French government has been pressing Sanofi to use its facilities to help make rival vaccines, given high demand and problems with supplies of the few vaccines that are already available.
Sanofi and British partner GlaxoSmithKline will start a new phase-2 trial of their COVID-19 vaccine next month, Sanofi said. The two companies said last month that their vaccine won’t be ready until late 2021 because the shot’s effectiveness in older people needed to be improved.
BEIJING — China has given more than 22 million coronavirus vaccine shots to date as it carries out a drive ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year holiday, health authorities said Wednesday.
The effort, which began six weeks ago, targets key groups such as medical and transport workers and has accelerated vaccinations in China. About 1.6 million doses had been given over several months before the campaign began.
“The carrying out of vaccination has been ongoing in a steady and orderly manner,” Zeng Yixin, vice chairman of the National Health Commission Said at a news conference.
He said that 22.76 million doses had been administered as of Tuesday. It’s not clear how many people that represents since the vaccine is given in two doses, and some may have received their second shot.
China, which largely stopped the spread of the virus last spring, has seen fresh outbreaks this winter in four northern provinces. About 1,800 new cases have been reported since mid-December, including two deaths.
Authorities are strongly discouraging people from traveling during the Lunar New Year holiday, a time when Chinese traditionally return to their hometowns for family gatherings.
NEW DELHI — India has vaccinated 2 million health workers in less than two weeks and recorded 12,689 new coronavirus positive cases in the past 24 hours, a sharp decline from a peak level of nearly 100,000 in mid-September.
The health Ministry said the daily new cases had fallen below 10,000 on Tuesday with 9,102 cases. The daily new positive cases were 9,304 on June 4 last year.
India’s fatalities dropped to 137 in the past 24 hours from a peak level of 1,089 daily deaths in September. India’s total positive cases since the start of the epidemic have reached 10.6 million, the second highest after the United States with 25.43 million cases.
India started inoculating health workers on Jan. 16 in what is likely the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
India is home to the world’s largest vaccine makers. Authorities hope to give shots to 300 million people. The recipients include 30 million doctors, nurses and other front-line workers.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported new 559 cases of the coronavirus, its highest daily increase in 10 days, as health workers scrambled to slow transmissions at religious facilities, which have been a major source of infections throughout the pandemic.
The figures released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Wednesday brought the national caseload to 76,429, including 1,378 deaths.
The agency said 112 of the new cases came from the southwestern city of Gwangju where more than 100 infections have so far been linked to a missionary training school. An affiliated facility in the central city of Daejeon has been linked to more 170 infections.
Nearly 300 of the new cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the country’s 51 million people, where infections have been tied to various places, including churches, restaurants, schools and offices.